The Chinese “surveillance balloon” with a significant number of payloads will continue floating over the United States for the next few days, the Pentagon said on Friday. Pentagon Press Secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder told reporters that the manoeuvrable Chinese balloon was at an altitude of about 60,000 feet as of Friday noon and floating over the center of the continental US in an easterly direction. He also said that the Aerospace Defence is monitoring the suspected surveillance balloon ‘closely’.
“The balloon continues to move eastward and is over the center of the continental US. Again, we currently assess that the balloon does not present a military or physical threat to people on the ground at this time, and we will continue to monitor and review options,” he said.
“It’s got a large payload underneath the surveillance component, underneath the actual balloon piece of it,” the official added, without elaborating about the payload.
The Chinese balloon detected in the skies of continental US roiled diplomatic tensions with US state secretary Antony Blinken abruptly cancelling his Beijing trip. This would have been the first visit of a top American diplomat to China in several years.
Beijing has accepted the balloon belongs to China, claiming that airship was being mainly used for meteorological research. The Chinese foreign ministry said in a statement that the airship “deviated far from its planned course” because of the “Westerlies and with limited self-steering capability”. The Chinese side “regrets the unintended entry of the airship into US airspace,” it added.
Responding to a query on China’s statement over the suspected balloon, Ryder said, “We are very aware of the PRC statement but however, but the fact is we know it is a surveillance balloon. We know that the balloon has violated US airspace and international law — which is unacceptable. And we’ve conveyed this directly to the PRC on multiple levels.”
Why is US not shooting down the Chinese balloon?
The Pentagon press secretary said the balloon is currently travelling at an altitude well above commercial air traffic and does not present a military or physical threat to people on the ground. Another reason to not shoot down at this point, he said, was the resulting debris from a strike could be harmful to people on the ground and result in property damage.